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What makes finnish so hard?

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Emissarius
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 Message 1 of 16
20 June 2012 at 10:46pm | IP Logged 
Hello, I've been reading a grammar website, and it looks very logical and regular.
Are there so many dialects? And, I heard that two of the cases are never used, what is used instead of them?
Thanks



COF
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 Message 2 of 16
21 June 2012 at 1:26am | IP Logged 
It isn't particularly hard in itself, and most of the cases aren't even cases, but postpositions.

I think most would be Finnish learners are put off by how different it looks, and the Finnish have convinced themselves that they speak the hardest language on earth, and are only too happy to tell foreigners what torture it will be to even try to learn their language.

Edited by COF on 21 June 2012 at 1:27am

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lingoleng
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 Message 3 of 16
21 June 2012 at 2:01am | IP Logged 
COF wrote:
It isn't particularly hard in itself, and most of the cases aren't even cases, but postpositions.
I think most would be Finnish learners are put off by how different it looks, and the Finnish have convinced themselves that they speak the hardest language on earth, and are only too happy to tell foreigners what torture it will be to even try to learn their language.


So you speak Finnish? Wouldn't this be a nice information in your profile?
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Serpent
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 Message 4 of 16
21 June 2012 at 2:39am | IP Logged 
Oh seriously, stop talking of things you know nothing about.
It's natural for native speakers to consider their language hard. Many things look random to them - but not to linguists.
For example, my friend once asked: do you have to learn all those forms by heart? vedessä, vedestä, vedellä etc? Nope, it's just enough to know that the stem is vede- and all the endings.

Diglossia also influences this, it makes native speakers think: but it's difficult even for me, must be sooooo difficult for foreigners. (Brazilian Portuguese speakers keep on saying this) Though really it's much easier to go from standard to dialect than vice versa (like native speakers have to do when they learn the standard language), and anyway the Finnish diglossia is overrated.

And even if Finnish people do say it's a difficult language and not worth studying... that's just them being humble. That's a warning, not a torture.

I actually don't understand why it's considered harder than say Indonesian. Both have a relatively alien vocabulary with some loan words, both have a regular but unusual grammar. In both cases the vocabulary is the main obstacle, though too many Finnish learners don't seem to get to that stage where you've gone through a gorgeous thick forest of grammar and face the Saimaa lake (vocabulary). The forest is behind you but you still have a lake to cross. It's beautiful but deep.

Ehh... or even worse, too many people are scared of the high trees on the forest edge, so they don't last till that moment when grammar keeps on getting easier (for me this was after about half a year).

It's an amazing language, beautiful and absolutely logical. For me it was much easier than German for example - and German is already considered logical by many. If you're interested, if you're passionate, go for it.


As for those two cases... prepositions are used to convey these meanings, just like in Indo-European languages. And cases are NOT postpositions, as postpositions themselves require this or that case. They just work the way prepositions do, and they make more sense because the same case can be used with various verbs in the same function. For example, the "topic" in English can be denoted by a direct object ("discuss something") or by prepositions like about, on, in, of, by, with, from, through (not sure about some). In Finnish that's the secondary function of a local case.

Many people just prefer illogical and familiar (like Spanish...not that it's completely devoid of logic) to logical but unfamiliar.

Edited by Serpent on 21 June 2012 at 2:45am

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Chung
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 Message 5 of 16
03 July 2012 at 8:24pm | IP Logged 
Emissarius wrote:
Hello, I've been reading a grammar website, and it looks very logical and regular.
Are there so many dialects? And, I heard that two of the cases are never used, what is used instead of them?
Thanks


There are several dialects of Finnish and these are often reclassified into a broad distinction between "Eastern" and "Western" as described briefly and shown on a map by Kotimaisten kielten keskus / Institute for the Languages of Finland.

What usually happens is that Finns speak to each other using their respective native dialect or the generalized colloquial form. They would most likely speak more closely to the standard language with foreigners or in formal settings. It's generally not a problem for Finns to speak to each other in their native dialects although there are sociolinguistic considerations as encountered in any speech community because of the geographical dimension of dialects. One Finn's perception of another can be affected by dealing with someone who speaks a Finnish dialect that arouses some kind of emotion or non-linguistic association.

As to two rarely-used cases, you're probably thinking of abessive ("without") and comitative (~ "together").

In these instances, Finns tend to use adpositions that govern cases that occur more frequently.

matka "journey", juna "train", -tta (abessive suffix), ilman "without" [this preposition forces the subsequent noun or adjective to be in partitive case]

matka junatta "a journey without a train"
matka ilman junaa "a journey without a train"

vanha "old", -ine (comitative suffix), ystävä "friend", -ni (possessive suffix of 1st person singular ~ "my"), kanssa "with" [this postposition forces the preceding noun or adjective to be in genitive case]

minä menin vanhoine ystävineni. "I went with my old friend(s)"
minä menin vanhan ystäväni kanssa. "I went with my old friend"
minä menin vanhojen ystävieni kanssa. "I went with my old friends"

As to the general question of what makes Finnish so hard, it centers on its frequent use of certain features to mark distinctions which are unfamiliar or highly distinct from what is used by speakers of other languages (mainly those revolving in Indo-European circles). It stands to reason that a constant stream of pointing out about how different (conflated with "difficult") Finnish is from their native Indo-European language contributes to Finnish's absolute difficulty.

The linguist, Fred Karlsson, listed briefly some of the difficulties in learning Finnish for outsiders in his reference book on Finnish grammar.

Karlsson, Fred. “Finnish: An Essential Grammar (2nd. ed.).” London, New York: Routledge, 2008, pp. 8-10 wrote:
The most difficult feature of the PRONUNCIATION of Finnish is the length (duration) of the sounds: differences of length very frequently serve to distinguish separate words.

[...]

Since Finnish is not an Indo-European language, the BASIC VOCABULARY differs from Indo-European.

[...]

...it was said that the inflection of Finnish words is easy in that the endings are often attached 'mechanically' to the stem. However, this is not always true. The form of the basic stem (root, lexical form) often alters when certain endings are added to it, i.e. a lexical word may be represented by different STEMS depending upon which endings it is followed by. These changes are called MORPHOPHONOLOGICAL ALTERNATIONS.

[...]

The basic form ... takes different forms according to the following ending and its sound structure. These sound alternations are governed by rules that can sometimes be extremely complex.

[...]

Case endings are usually added to nouns, adjectives, pronouns and numerals (all together called NOMINALS), but they may also be added to verbs.

Minä lähden Jyväskylä/än. I'm going to Jyväskylä.
Minä lähden kävele/mä/än. I'm going 'walking' (= for a walk).

The verb form kävelemään literally means 'into walking', just as Jyväskylään means 'into (the town of) Jyväskylä'. Both forms contain the illative case ending of -än meaning 'into'. When complex sentences are formed, Finnish makes more use than English of such inflected non-finite verb forms.

The grammatical object in Finnish is marked by a case ending. In the two following sentences the endings -n, -t, -a indicate 'this word is the object of the sentence' and tell something about its definiteness or indefiniteness. The rules governing the use of these endings are fairly complex.

(Minä) ostan kira/n ~ kirja/t ~ kirjo/j/a. I (shall) buy a/the book ~ the books ~ books.

Tuomas näki auto/n ~ auto/t ~ auto/j/a. Tuomas saw a/the car ~ the cars ~ cars.


I don't fully agree with Serpent about Finnish diglossia being overatted since it is an important aspect to learn for any foreign student of Finnish. It must be learned simply because it is how Finns communicate despite its distinctiveness and there being a standard language backed by a language planning body. I've had to devote some time already for passive knowledge of colloquial Finnish since the standard language doesn't normally appear in native speech and there are noticeable differences in inflection which aren't immediately transparent to foreigners raised only on the standard language (e.g. passive present is used to mark the standard 1st person plural present tense; long vowels replace certain diphthongs; dropping or occasional assimilation of standard final -n). However the difficulty for beginners is often reduced by natives often using standard language on foreigners and this probably leads to Serpent's comment about the diglossia being overrated. It's not impossible to learn, but it's not a cakewalk either, and will take some study and practice to become comfortable.
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Марк
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 Message 6 of 16
03 July 2012 at 8:55pm | IP Logged 
Words in different I-E groups became so different, that it does not help at all.
humo and dim come from the same root, does it help?



Medulin
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 Message 7 of 16
03 July 2012 at 10:35pm | IP Logged 
Finnish is a diglossic language, like Swiss German and Czech.
You have to learn the spoken language and the standard written language separately.
For people who haven't learned a diglossic language before, this can be akward and frustrating.

While most languages have a colloquial and a very formal variant, in most languages you can find an in-between solution, usage that will sound fine in both informal and formal language. But, this is not the case in Finnish, Czech and Swiss German. Informal and formal usage is kept apart, and many times there is no ''neutral register'' .

Even in Brazilian Portuguese (which is sometimes considered a diglossic language) you can find a neutral register which is acceptable in both colloquial and formal language:

I love you / I went to the bookstore
Te amo/Fui na livraria (colloquial)
Amo-a / Fui à livraria (formal)
Eu amo você / Fui para a livraria (neutral)

Even Belgian Dutch has a mesolect (Gij is avoided, but u and uw are used informally).

But, in Finnish, Czech and Swiss German, there is hardly any mesolect, you have the basilect and the acrolect. A bit frustrating. Spoken and written Finnish are as close/distant as standard Swedish and standard Norwegian are, grammar-wise., and they count as separate languages. Diglossic languages require more effort. Sometimes you get the feel you're studying two close related languages (for example Croatian and Slovenian). I quit Tamil because of diglossia (in Tamil as well as in Arabic it's the case of ''extreme diglossia''). In before-mentioned European languages, linguists talk of ''median diglossi'a.''.

Edited by Medulin on 03 July 2012 at 10:49pm

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Serpent
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 Message 8 of 16
03 July 2012 at 11:48pm | IP Logged 
Chung wrote:
I don't fully agree with Serpent about Finnish diglossia being overatted since it is an important aspect to learn for any foreign student of Finnish. It must be learned simply because it is how Finns communicate despite its distinctiveness and there being a standard language backed by a language planning body. I've had to devote some time already for passive knowledge of colloquial Finnish since the standard language doesn't normally appear in native speech and there are noticeable differences in inflection which aren't immediately transparent to foreigners raised only on the standard language (e.g. passive present is used to mark the standard 1st person plural present tense; long vowels replace certain diphthongs; dropping or occasional assimilation of standard final -n). However the difficulty for beginners is often reduced by natives often using standard language on foreigners and this probably leads to Serpent's comment about the diglossia being overrated. It's not impossible to learn, but it's not a cakewalk either, and will take some study and practice to become comfortable.
I'm almost offended lol :P
As for diglossia, I've explained this elsewhere. Finns just use a more informal language in general, so what's used only between friends in other countries can be used to strangers. IDK it's just not been a big deal in my case. After years of study, I find the English dialects (especially UK) much harder than the Finnish ones.



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